Constructional and functional linguistic frameworks share some fundamental aspects in their approaches to language and language use. On the one hand, both types of theories make a distinction between syntactic/formal, semantic, and pragmatic/contextual dimensions of language, or levels of encoding (and some also have a distinction between interpersonal and representational aspects, either crosscutting, or parallel with levels of encoding). On the other hand, (lexicogrammatical) units that are larger than the traditional constituents have recently gained more importance in these types of models, e.g. the ‘construction’, phraseological units, collocational sets, theme-rheme schemes. Constructional and functional approaches have given an imporant impetus to contrastive linguistics because each of the language dimensions they distinguish can be taken as a ‘tertium comparationis’ for comparing languages, and because the focus on constructional units raises new questions about differences between languages in the relative contribution of lexis and grammar. Conversely, contrastive linguistics can play an important role in the further development of constructional and functional models, which are increasingly based on empirical data gained through corpus research or experimental methods. The important next step is to do research on the basis of complex data sets from several languages, which have been gather through these empirical methods.

A large part of recent and current contrastive research focuses on expressions with an interpersonal (rather than representational) function. Functional research on, for instance, processes of grammaticalization and intersubjectification can also benefit greatly from a corpus-driven, contrastive approach. A detailed analysis of differences between languages can lead to new insights about the underlying factors in language change and the principle of unidirectionality. And, finally, contrastive studies can contribute to testing and refining theoretical concepts such as ‘construction’ or ‘constructional inheritance’ and ‘grammatical constructionalization’.

Aims of the network

The general aim of the research network is to bring together expertise on the interaction between contrastive linguistics and constructional and/or functional linguistics, and to strengthen this interaction. Through a number of concrete events, we attempt to instigate a thorough theoretical-methodological reflection:

(i) about the ways in which recent analytical tools and categories of functional and constructional models can be used in comparative research, and,

(ii) vice versa, about the way in which the analysis of data from various languages can contribute to the further refinement of constructional and functional theories. 

The specific expertise of the network members differs, not only in terms of the languages under study, but also in terms of research foci: each partner has its own position within the quadrangle of contrastive linguistics — typology of language — construction grammar — functional linguistics. In addition, the methodological expertise among the various network members is also quite varied, including (synchronic and/or diachronic) qualitative corpus research, advanced quantitative corpus techniques, and experimental psycholinguistic research. We are convinced that bringing together the different research teams in the network will lead to fundamental new insights.

UGent 2011